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Employee Ownership

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You can feel it every day — employee ownership shapes our culture.  That means the success of our company, and where we go from here, rests on all of our shoulders. It makes us accountable to ourselves and to each other.  It’s our company, and our actions and engagement make the difference.

But if you really want to know what employee ownership means at HDR, our employees say it best. 

Dennis Bruce | Principal Economist

To an economist like Dennis Bruce, the power of employee ownership is proven in the numbers.

“ESOPs are known to enhance productivity and profitability by all employee-owners having the same mindset to grow the business and continue to do things better,” he said.

This mindset is shared across every job type and office around the world at HDR. In 2005, Dennis joined HDR through part of our first international acquisition. Today, employees in Canada, Australia and Germany can take part in retirement plans that offer a form of synthetic equity, the value of which is equal to the market value of a share of HDR common stock.

“As an investor, it is another means of adding a different type of investment to my retirement portfolio and diversifying by adding to my international holdings,” he said. “I strongly believe investing in a diversified manner is important, and there is a role for our company stock in any portfolio mix.”

The continued success of our stock not only celebrates the investment of our time, talents and resources, but it is also a symbol of the deep commitment our employee-owners have to HDR. As Dennis explained, that is modeled especially well in our senior leadership.

“Their financial investment demonstrates a commitment to continue to grow the company and, therefore, the share price,” he said. “And to continue to do the right things for the right reasons.”

Mo Mah | Design Principal

When employees become employee-owners, the investment is not only financial, but personal.

For Mo Mah, it’s an act of standing with the company and investing in ourselves, as well as our clients and communities.

“I believe in the company and its principles,” he said. “We prioritize the quality of service to our clients. We sincerely want our clients to be successful, first and foremost.”

As an architect working with public agencies, Mo sees success as a win for more than just the project managers or agencies overseeing a project. We are partnering together to deliver projects to improve the lives of the communities they serve.

“When you have a company that is committed to our clients’ success, we’re talking about a company that’s committed to a community’s success and growth and vibrancy,” he said.

Buying into the culture of a company simply means more to our employee-owners.

“It empowers people to feel invested in the company,” he said. “But also empowers them to understand who we are and what we stand for.”

Isabella Walsh | Transportation Engineer


A culture of employee ownership elevates our perspective from to-do lists into tasks that both directly impact the success of the company and each individual simultaneously. Isabella Walsh, transportation engineer and chair of Omaha’s young professionals group, is keenly aware of the effect her daily interactions have on her industry, her company and herself.

 “In my day-to-day job, I’m making sure that I’m improving our transportation system,” she said. “That’s the most important thing.”

With her clients’ best interests in mind, Isabella knows that her efforts help her company, and as an employee-owner, that also helps her career. She also recognizes how employee ownership shapes a culture that differentiates HDR from other organizations.

“A lot of our benefits come back to employee ownership,” she explained. “Because we know it directly benefits our stock, which directly benefits us.”

This mindset unifies teams through a shared purpose, and builds trust. For young professionals, the opportunity to take ownership in the organization they work for enhances their career growth and empowers them to invest in their futures.

“It makes it a better place to work,” she said. “When a company is employee-owned, it creates a cohesive atmosphere where everyone is working toward the same goal. It’s more of a team environment.”

Jerome Brown | Quality Office Director

In 2002, Jerome wasn’t thinking about retirement — let alone employee ownership. He was young, new to HDR and focused on living life to the fullest.

“Now I’m kicking myself,” he said. “You see the results and just think ‘wow.’”

Wow is right — and not just when looking at the financial benefits. It’s about how each of us operates. As an employee-owner today, Jerome likens it to owning vs. renting a car.

“When you own it, you take care of it differently than a rental,” he said. “I think in many organizations, people have the attitude of renters. They are not looking to leave a legacy or impact or nurture others. But when you own it — you treat it like you own it. That’s the magic sauce that keeps people here.”

All in all, it boils down to one thing, Jerome says.

“We matter. At some companies, you contribute but you might not matter. That’s not the case here: You really understand that you matter because you’re more than just an employee.”

Neil Richards | Senior Construction Engineer

Employee-owners experience collective prosperity and collective responsibility. Neil Richards, a senior construction engineer, recognizes that this responsibility guides his decision-making on projects.

“Our staff feel that the individual business decisions we make can have a small but direct impact on our profitability,” he said. “We are each spending or saving ‘our money’ when we make choices.”

Employee ownership enables better long-term decision-making throughout the company.

“HDR being privately held and employee-owned allows our leadership to plan with a longer horizon,” said Neil. “This certainly helps generate a stable business model that doesn’t create the whipsaw of quarter to quarter changes in how we approach our business.”

Our employees know that their hard work and investments in HDR have significant impacts on organizational outcomes.

“As an owner, I am keenly aware of how choices I and others make in scoping and contracting work affect our collective financial risk.”

Susana Erpestad | Director of Federal Programs, Architecture

Every one of our employee has their own ownership story. For Susana Erpestad, owning a piece of her company is a lot more than dollars and cents – it’s about the culture it creates within HDR, which is something she saw early on in her tenure.

“I bought stock right away,” she said. “When you’re an owner, it just changes the approach to your work. We own the company, and we are responsible for our success. We have an extra level of commitment to our partners, and that is a very powerful value added to our culture. We all believe in ownership, and we live and operate as owners.”

After starting her career with HDR in Phoenix in 2010, Susana now resides in our Arlington, Virginia, office. She’s seen the effect of employee ownership in the way we work with our clients and our coworkers.

“Employee ownership elevates the quality of our design work and promotes productivity,” she said. “We treat each other as accountable partners because we are all invested in, represent and believe in the company we own. We all care about HDR and the future we hold together.”

Susana is invested in HDR, and she’s proud to bring that culture to her coworkers and clients every day.

Craig Lenning | Senior Management Consultant


Craig Lenning began investing in HDR stock when it was first offered to employees in 1996, and he continued to invest through the majority of his 28-year tenure. He largely credits his investment in HDR for being able to retire this year at age 59. For him, investing simply made sense.

“Why would I not want to invest in the company that I’m going to be part owner of?” he said.

Craig’s confidence to invest stemmed from his trust in his fellow employee-owners and the consistent year-over-year return.

“I had a lot of faith in the management of HDR at the time that we’re going to do the right thing,” he said. “I know a whole lot more about how my money is invested in HDR than I do in what’s put into a mutual fund, which I have no input in and no control.”

It’s commonplace here to discuss culture and employee ownership in the same breath, but Craig considers it as more than one part of the company.

“Employee ownership is an outgrowth from our culture,” he explained. “If our culture hadn’t been establish initially, we probably would not be employee-owned.”

With more than 10,000 employees in more than 200 offices today, Craig has seen how this culture has sustained itself over the years.

“There were 1,200 people when I started, with 35 offices,” he said. “An awful lot of things within HDR are still the same.”

To me, it goes back to the original culture. If you do the right things for your client, you’ll do the right things for HDR, then you’ll do the right things for yourself.”

Jared Harris | Area Manager

Jared joined HDR through an acquisition in 2002 and has been an employee-owner ever since.

He’s seen the way employee ownership has shaped our company.

“Just look at the way we treat each other – with respect,” he said. “That builds successful employees and comes from the culture of owning your own company. Every time I have to make a decision, I think ‘there are thousands of employee-owners depending on the decisions we make.’ That brings some tremendous pressure, but we all have a piece of our destiny.”

The impact isn’t just at the global level, either. It impacts each local office.

“One of the things we talk about is that employee ownership is so much more than financial,” he said. “You control your destiny and your outcomes.”

Jared also said that a colleague put it well during a strategic planning presentation.

“At publically traded companies, the strategic plans list the financial information upfront and the shareholder information after that,” he explained. “Our strategic plan starts with the employees, and the financials follow it. That’s representative of our company, too — it starts with each of us, and if we are all doing our part, the financial success will follow.”

Mary Knosby | Water Client Development Leader


Mary was eager to become an employee-owner right after starting at HDR, having come from a different employee-owned firm in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“Having come from another employee-owned company, I understood the value,” she said. “I had been exposed to it. I’m an engineer, so I love looking at the data, and the data quickly shows how successful HDR has been.”

Employee ownership also played a part in what attracted Mary to HDR in the first place.

“I liked being a consulting engineer, and with HDR’s presence in Charlotte and it being an employee-owned company, I knew I wanted to come here,” she said.

Mary now serves as a vice president and our client development lead for the water group in the South Atlantic area. She’s grown her career at HDR in part because of the opportunities she’s seen as an owner.

“It affects everything — the day-to-day decisions we make, the projects we execute, how we manage our budgets,” she said. “I just don’t believe it would exist in the same way if we were publicly traded. Our culture really lends itself to everyone being in that same mindset, so it makes it easy.”

Joe Readling | Solid Waste Section Manager

Over the last 23 years, our employee ownership has shown its value on our culture and the way we approach our work. And Joe has been there since the beginning.

An HDR employee since 1985, Joe is now “practicing retirement” at age 56, working part-time in our Charlotte office. He purchased HDR stock the first time it was made available to all employees.

“I’ve heard the employee-ownership discussion since 1996,” he said. “I’m wired into it. I hear people talk about the importance of the culture, and I drink the Kool-Aid. I went from working in an office of 60 people in 1985 to now there are over 250 of us. And that growth is directly attributable to each of us having our own piece of the company.”

Joe said that one of the most noticeable aspects of ownership is how it’s treated by the leadership of HDR. We want to protect our model and sustain it for future generations. Leadership listens to the owners and makes decisions in the best interest of the employees. He’s also quite fond of the return on his investment over the years.

“We don’t know what the future holds,” he said, “but very modest investments in employee ownership over the years has afforded me the flexibility to retire at 55 with probably double the savings I would have otherwise.  That’s something I want newer employees to understand.”